6 Ways To Deal With Online Personal Attacks

Oh, the Internet. You.

Jul 29, 2013 at 1:00pm | Leave a comment

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One of my favorite things about my dog is how rarely he goes online.

People say a lot of mean things to me online. People say a lot of mean things to everybody. That's the Internet. The Internet is mean. Anonymous and mean. Also, wonderful and miraculous, but a lot of the time, just anonymous and mean.

Here are a few of the top mean things people have said to me online:

  • "If I were you I would have put a gun in my mouth a long time ago."
  • "You look like Renee Zellweger with Down Syndrome."
  • "Worthless. Not one redeeming quality."
  • "I'm fantasizing about you playing in traffic. Die, bitch."
  • "I would spit on your maggot-infested corpse.

And so on. I think you get the picture.

Of course it can feel rotten. If you have any feelings at all, no matter how tough you pretend to be, there will be one that will be provide a sting. Say you are insecure about your looks. Or your talent. Or about feeling loved. Then a cruel comment when you already having an off day, it can put you over the edge.

"Why am I even on the Internet?" you might ask. "It's not worth the grief. There is so much awesomeness out in the world, and life is too short for this kind of psychic violence in my life."

Well, that's actually a solid route I heartily endorse if you can swing it. Let's call that No. 1 in my handy all-purpose list of ways to deal with online hate.

#1 Just get offline.

Seriously. You don't need to be online. Period. As much as I promote personal branding and being on every social media site known to mankind and reading every article ever written on xoJane and signing up for our newsletter and rah-rah-rah, gooooo online! If you don't need to be, and if you take a minute to measure the good that it is adding to your life, look at the bad as well.

If you find that the stress is really a lot more significant than the positive, just sign off, man.

There are plenty of successful people in the world today who are Luddites (David Sedaris, Janeane Garofalo, your physician most likely) and they all use intermediaries to get what they need from the online world. It's not a necessity unless your career makes it one. If you find online vitriol is really creating significant stress and your career requires it, then seriously -- and I'm being straight up here -- consider a new career.

Have you ever read "What Should I Do With My Life"? It's the first book that ever gave me real solace about the universality of humankind's collective tossing and turning over the never-ever-satisfied quest to Find the Perfect Career In Life. Almost no one is sated. As in, no one. We are all doubters and second-guessers.

My favorite anecdote in the book is from a woman who took every "What Color is Your Parachute?" test in the book, discovered she was meant to be a doctor, got into medical school and when Po Bronson, the author of this awesome career book, went to interview her, found this lady not in class but in her apartment, withdrawn and depressed. Why?

"I forgot being a doctor meant being with sick people," she essentially told him about her test-tube-perfect reformulation of her life to pursue her dream career. "And I don't like being around sick people."

Welcome to real life. It's imperfect. And ever-changing. Build the life you want. Even if means going offline. Forget Facebook. So you miss a baby picture and a sushi roll every now and again. Eh. Who cares?

#2 Develop some rules about what you will and won't look at online.

I have a rule for myself. When I know that an article I've written has gotten linked to from a site that is dedicated to saying that my writing and any woman who is like me is a blight against humanity, I pretty much permanently peace out from the comments section. No good can be had there.

My rule is that unless someone physically threatens harm against me or my family, then it's just psychic violence, and I don't need it.

I once asked Elizabeth Gilbert how she deals with cruelty toward her writing which is so incredibly personal and she looked me straight in the eye and said, "I just don't read it." Her answer seemed so simple and yet so incredibly profound. She just doesn't read it.

She went on to clarify that she will read professional critical analyses that might be withering, but the hordes of anonymous people who might say that she, too, ought to off herself? No. She doesn't need that. And she knows she doesn't. If you want to tear her down, best get to work on getting your cruelty to a place where it is publishable in The New York Times, and then you'll have a shot at reaching her.

#3 Wish the hater well.

Very few people know what to do with that. Although be warned, sometimes nothing makes a rage-addict angrier than you not engaging. But, man, does it ever free you from getting entangled in that person's web of bad times.

#4 See the hater as sick and suffering.

This helps me a lot. You have to imagine the person who is taking the time to spend their days (and think of that great quote "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives," by Annie Dillard) spewing bile anonymously at other people -- rather than creating something of their own they actually believe in -- has got to be a pretty unhappy person.

Or if not unhappy then at a point in their lives where their happiness is actually only derived via the misery of others. Which, to me, spells sickness and suffering in spades.

Having empathy for the bile-spewer is such a more pleasant action than having rage or getting involved in some kind of who-can-be-crappier-to-one-another match. Just have empathy, yo. In all likelihood, however hard some anonymous person is trying to make you feel crap is exactly how much they are feeling crap themselves. Sure, it's hard to remember that when someone is suggesting you put a gun in your mouth or saying they would like to spit on your corpse, but trust me, it's possible.

#5 Know that everyone experiences the toxicity and cruelty that is inherent in online existence.

From your 8-year-old to your grandmother getting online for the first time, there is not a single person who hasn't been exposed to the faceless snarl of Internet rage. I suppose that one time when I showed my mom how to get online for the first time in 2000 and she ended up on some Alan Thicke fan appreciation message board because she was Googling "Miracle Pets," she might have been immune. But just that one time. She's since lost her Internet rage cherry. Maybe I should just have one of these rules simply be "stay on the Alan Thicke fan sites, and you're good."

#6 Look at someone saying something nasty as a compliment to you putting yourself out there in the first place.

You know who gets nasty things said to them online? Obama. Oprah. Anyone who is NOT milquetoast. You want to be complimented all day long? Again: Alan Thicke message boards. Otherwise, you're a player. Players catch grief. It's part of the game. And just see it as that. Don't take it personally. It's part of the game of humanity, and I think you're rad for playing.

PS: If you want to see the absurd comic hilarity of Internet hating at its best, see the way Colin Quinn purposefully provokes and then retweets the insults lobbed against him. It's like watching Picasso paint, I tell you.

What else?

What'd I miss? Are you the person who wrote the Rene Zellweger thing? Come on, I won't be mad. We're all friends here! It's the Internet. 

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